Category Archives: PBS

September Ramblin'

I wrote recently about music that made me cry, and I left an important piece out.

When I first joined the Trinity UMC choir in the January 1983, the lead soprano was named Arlene Mahigian. She had an amazingly lovely voice, but more than that, she took a liking to me. Though I was almost 30, she, who had a couple grown sons, decided to become my “choir mom”. Among other things, she’d take my robe home when it needed cleaning.

In the winter of 1984-85, she developed cancer. In March 1985, the choir performed the Mozart requiem. Arlene was unable to sing, but she was there in a wheelchair, not only to support the choir, but also her son Peter and her husband Leo as they performed the Adagio by Albinoni (or more likely, Giazotto.) About three weeks later, I visited Arlene in the hospital, her beautiful hair having all fallen out. She looked wan and pale and I don’t even think she opened her eyes. I didn’t know she even knew I was there until she squeezed my fingers; then I knew. She died the next day, and the Adagio reminds me of her.

I hadn’t heard it in quite a long time until it was on public radio one morning in the past 10 days. I heard it, and about 2/3s of the way through, I just wept. Here are three versions; none are as plainspoken as Leo and Peter playing, which I can still hear in my mind’s ear.
Version 1
Version 2
Version 3
William Safire died, and I’m a bit sad. It’s not that I liked his politics; often, in fact, I loathed them. Nut he at least had some intellect to his position. The current crop of the right-wing, Glenn Beck, et al, are better inciting the crowd, but Safire had miles more candlepower.

But I once appeared in his On Language column. I can’t believe it was so long ago: December 19, 1982. In a piece called Vox of Pop Sixpack, He talked about “Who speaks for the average man? Out of whose mouth comes the voice of the people? A bit of doggerel in the Presidential campaign of 1920, sung by the supporters of James Cox and Franklin Roosevelt, used the Latin term vox populi, for ”voice of the people”: ”Cox or Harding, Harding or Cox?/ You tell us, populi, you got the vox.” At that time, the chorus of voices that intoned ”Harding and Coolidge” went under the name of John Citizen for highbrows, Joe Zilch for lowbrows…” Then he cites my suggestion of Joe Sixpack.

I also wrote to him about my suggestion of the term lunaversary to note the marking of the celebration of a month; e.g., if you were married for a month, you might celebrate your first lunaversary. Far more accurate than “one-month anniversary”, anni- referring to year, and far shorter to boot. Safire did not use it in his column, but he did type me a response suggesting that the idea had merit; I still have that blue postcard somewhere in the attic.
I find myself agreeing with Mark Evanier over the fate of Roman Polanski. The VICTIM has suffered enough; would it be “justice” if she were forced to testify at a media frenzy of a trial? I find her position paramount. She said six and a half years ago, when Polanski was up for an Oscar: “And, honestly, the publicity surrounding it was so traumatic that what he did to me seemed to pale in comparison.”
Nova: Darwin’s Darkest Hour – Tues., October 6 at 8 p.m. (but check your local listings)

This two-hour scripted drama presents the remarkable story behind the birth of Darwin’s radically controversial theory of evolution and reveals his deeply personal crisis of whether to publish his earthshaking ideas or to keep quiet to avoid potential backlash from the church.
How to make a grilled cheese sandwich
What happens when the world’s most popular comic book company is assimilated by the Mouse Factory


Jack Johnson

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by boxing. I think this was a function of my paternal grandfather’s interest in watching it on television; boxing was on primetime TV from 1946 to 1964 on four different networks, including Dumont. It was a mix of admiration and horror, I think. I knew all the heavyweight boxing champions, and their approximate reign from John L. Sullivan to Jersey Joe Walcott to Joe Louis – the Brown Bomber to the undefeated Rocky Marciano to Cassius Clay Muhammad Ali.

No one, though, intrigued me more than Jack Johnson. Perhaps it was because he was the first black heavyweight champ, but more than likely it was because he seemed to annoy so many with his unforgivable blackness. He won the title in a brutalizing fight; I suspect that he fought that way as payback for being denied even the opportunity to fight for the crown for five years for reasons of race.

From the Wikipedia post: “[R]acial animosity among whites ran so deep that even a socialist like Jack London called out for a ‘Great White Hope’ to take the title away from Johnson — who was crudely caricatured as a subhuman ‘ape’ — and return it to where it supposedly belonged, with the ‘superior’ white race.” His 1910 “Fight of the Century” victory over former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries lead to riots by the white public, often leading to near lynchings of blacks.

Jack Johnson was the first person persecutedprosecuted under the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 which not only prohibited white slavery, but also banned the “interstate transport of females for immoral purposes.” You may know it better as the Mann Act, which was so broadly worded that courts held it to criminalize many forms of consensual sexual activity. Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry were charged under it and Eliot Spitzer might have been.

I remember that my girlfriend at the time, her late father and I saw the movie The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, both Oscar nominated, when it came out in 1970. We were all mesmerized and enthralled, though like many movies made from plays, it was more like the filming of a play than a true theatrical experience.

Last September, Congress, with the strong support of, among others, John McCain, passed a resolution to recommend that the President grant Johnson a “pardon for his 1913 conviction, in acknowledgment of its racist overtones, and in order to exonerate Johnson and recognize his contribution to boxing.” I can find no record suggesting that such a pardon was ever granted.

There’s an online comic book called The Original Johnson. The description: “Trevor von Eeden introduces the first really free black man.” It was just over a century ago, December 26, 1908– “ironically enough, Boxing Day in many countries– Jack Johnson beat Tommy Burns to become both the heavyweight champion of the world, and the most notorious black man on the planet.”


A Cornucopia of Stuff

The good news here is that after six weeks of having her teeth wired shut, my wife Carol can now open her mouth. This doesn’t mean she can have steak, but she can have soft foods such as scrambled eggs. After a month and a half of not using one’s jaw, one must relearn to use it.
One problem is that she cannot yet open her mouth sufficiently to use her toothbrush, something she was REALLY looking forward to. Fortunately, her clever husband, quite possibly inspired by this workshop, suggested that Carol use a smaller toothbrush, and as it turned out, we had a couple replacement brushes for Lydia that Carol could use.
One of my sisters works for Wachovia bank – well, she did until there WAS no Wachovia. Like just about everyone dealing with a bank, she didn’t originally work for the former giant, but rather First Union out of Charlotte, NC, where my mother also used to work. But First Union got taken over up by Wachovia and now Wachovia is owned by Citicorp. It reminds me of fish in the food chain being swallowing up ever larger creatures. In any case, she still has a job, for now.
While my retiring Democratic Congressman, Mike McNulty , voted for the bailout, the frosh Congresswoman from the area, Kirsten Gillibrand , voted no. So did Maurice Hinchey, a liberal Dem from my old district, whose state Assembly campaign I supported in 1974. And of course, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who’s been marginalized a lot this year, but is often correct. Someone sent me this alternative proposal; we’ll see if THAT passes.
Seriously, they’ll be some sort of deal soon, if only because there is no credit available for businesses large or small.
The Veep debate is tonight, and it ought to generate real interest, mostly to see if Sarah Palin will self-destruct. Based on her performances in the Alaska gubernatorial debates, excerpts of which can be found here, she may fare better than most people think. On the other hand, check out this link. After the 50 seconds of the Today show description of Tina Fey channeling Palin, you will watch a side-by-side comparison of Palin and Fey. As SamuraiFrog asked: “You know what the difference is between Tina Fey and a pit bull with lipstick? Tina Fey didn’t have to keep looking down at her notes.”
Bill Moyers’ interview with Andrew J. Bacevich on his book “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”, which is “one in a series called the ‘American Empire Project.’ Several noted scholars and writers are examine American aspirations at home and abroad, looking for ways to foster democracy without succumbing to imperial ambitions.”
Because you need to know: an Internet Memes timeline.
That’s all I’ve got, but I’d be curious to get your reaction to my piece Is getting people interested in politics REALLY a good idea?


Getting Wright the Second Time

I had thought that I had set up a recording of Bill Moyers’ Journal Friday night. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was Bill’s guest. Then at 9:30 pm, I noticed that the recording light on the DVR wasn’t on, and soon I figured out why; the local PBS station, WMHT, was having its @#$%^&* fundraising auction! Fortunately, I could find the remaining part of the program on a secondary WMHT channel on cable.

I found Jeremiah Wright to be far more thoughtful and less vitriolic than the snippets would suggest. In fact, of those snippets, Reverend Wright said, “When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that’s not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic…”

I was intrigued to find that Reverend Wright’s “infamous” sermon of September 16, 2001 was based on Psalm 137. You may know the first six verses of that psalm from the reggae song “By the Rivers of Babylon”. But I recall a former pastor of mine, last time this scripture came up in the lectionary, talk about what a difficult scripture it was to preach on:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-

9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

I hope you take the time to watch the video and/or read the transcript of Bill Moyers’ interview of Jeremiah Wright, rather than have the soundbites dictate your opinion of him.


Dead Russian Composers and Kevin Bacon

From Johnny B:

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Dmitri Shostakovich!

I am a shy, nervous, unassuming, fidgety, and stuttery little person who began composing the same year I started music lessons of any sort. I wrote the first of my fifteen symphonies at age 18, and my second opera, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” when I was only 26. Unfortunately, Stalin hated the opera, and put me on the Enemy Of The People List for life. I nevertheless kept composing the works I wanted to write in private; some of my vocal cycles and 15 string quartets mock the Soviet System in notes. And I somehow was NOT killed in the process! And Harry Potter(c) stole my glasses and broke them!

Who would you be? Dead Russian Composer Personality Test

I was sort of pulling for Sergei Prokofiev, who died two days before I was born.
Meanwhile, I was trying to ascertain how I would get to do Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon after reading Lefty’s note about his wife, and I realized that my friend Sara Lee in the music business would be a link to a number of people, from Robbie Robertson to Tom Petty.
So, Kevin Bacon was in A Few Good Men with Jack Nicholson
Nicholson worked with Cher in The Witches of Eastwick
Cher worked with my friend Sara Lee on a tour
Sort of speaking of which, on this PBS website, you can play Six Degrees of American Masters. For instance, getting from Hank Williams to Tennessee Williams:

Hank Williams is connected to Willie Nelson because Willie Nelson appeared in the 1992 story of Hank Williams, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

Willie Nelson is connected to Joni Mitchell because Willie Nelson covered Joni Mitchell’s song, Both Sides Now.

Joni Mitchell is connected to Quincy Jones because Joni Mitchell performed on Quincy Jones’ 1986 book/recording, Children First.

Quincy Jones is connected to Truman Capote because Quincy Jones composed the music for the film of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1967).

Truman Capote is connected to Gore Vidal because Gore Vidal and Truman Capote were literary rivals.

Gore Vidal is connected to Tennessee Williams because Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal were friends.

Some are more tenuous than that, especially when events (World War II) are included, but it’s a bit of fun.
Blog link add: The sister of a good friend of mine, Annika Pfluger, recently started her own business making artisan chocolates. Check out her site, and you’ll see that she makes all of her chocolates by hand including the hand painting. Her ingredients are fair trade/organic/local where possible.